Voting began on Thursday morning in the first of the three-phased assembly elections in Manipur amid tight security.
People in large numbers queued up in front of polling stations well before voting opened at 7.30 am in 19 of Manipur's 60 assembly constituencies. Polling ends at 3.30 pm.
"There is tremendous enthusiasm among the voters with people coming in large numbers to exercise their franchise dressed in their traditional attires," an election official said.
Close to 600,000 voters are eligible to cast their franchise to decide the fate of 77 candidates in 19 assembly constituencies in the insurgency-ravaged districts of Thoubal, Ukhrul, and Senapati. The total number voters in Manipur are 1.7 million out of nearly 2.4 million people.
"We have deployed adequate number of police and paramilitary troopers for the polling and we hope to have a free and fair vote," the official said. In the second phase Feb 14, polling would take place in 29 constituencies. The remaining 12 seats would go to the polls Feb 23. Counting of votes begins Feb 27.
Thursday's vote would decide the fate of several prominent leaders including Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, Speaker Manir Udin Sheikh and former finance minister Chungkhokai Doungel.
The chief minister is contesting from two constituencies - Thoubal and neighbouring Khangabok. Senior Manipur People's Party (MPP) leader L Tomba Singh is pitted against the chief minister in Thoubal.
"I am very excited as this is the first time I am voting. I will vote for the best candidate who I think would work for the overall development of our area," said T. Singh, a college student.
The battle lines are drawn with the ruling Congress party taking on regional challengers, the MPP, with the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958, dominating the agendas of all political parties.
The AFPSA, an anti-terror law that provides sweeping powers to the security forces deployed in the region, is the focal point in the electioneering - almost all the opposition parties have been demanding the repealing of the Act saying the 'draconian legislation' was a slur on democracy as it infringes on basic human rights of the people in Manipur.